Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Malware: the blame game

As you may know, there's a never-ending debate between who's at fault when a user is infected:
  •  is it the user for being "gullable" or being social engineered to click on a malicious link?
  •  is it the fault of the antivirus or antimalware application for missing an infection?
  •  is it the fault of the administrator in corporate networks for not having proper policies?
  •  last but not least side-question: is antivirus useless?

Here's an excellent article which goes deeper into these questions and discusses about it:
(TL;DR: Imperva performed an antivirus test with doubtful and possibly improper testing methods and the (antivirus) community reacted on it)

My personal opinion? There's only one group to blame here which seems to get missed in these debates: the malware writers themselves. After all, the people who create (and use) the malware are responsible for the millions of infected machines and affected businesses, which may both lose a considerable amount of money by either
  • users: paying up to ransomware or rogueware, or CC (Credit Card) theft or fraud
  • businesses: personal records stolen (user/password databases), business plans stolen, not to mention the financial & productional losses.

So what's the endless discussion about and why are we not blaming the malware authors and botnet operators? (to learn more about botnets see my blogpost: the botnet wars: a Q&A)

Here are the main points antivirus companies are blamed on:
  • making money on the back of the customer and 
  • not protecting well enough.  

How much of this is true? Is antivirus dead? My only comment about this:
antivirus provides a good (basic) layer or level of protection on your machine. Is it sufficient? Maybe. Do you need extra protection? Depends. If you're a normal "home user", an antivirus and firewall will surely suffice. Free or paid antivirus doesn't really matter at that point. If you're in an organisation or corporation, antivirus will surely provide a good base to start from, not only signature-based but heuristically as well.

But you'll need more. Ideally, you need an extra set of eyes just for monitoring unusual behavior in your network. Is this realistic? Maybe. Are there solutions specifically designed for this on the market? Yes.

I won't go any deeper into the points above, as it's been discussed & debated upon many times.

Moving on:

Do ISPs (Internet Service Provider) need to take an arrow in the knee for this? How many and which ISPs are already detecting machines which are infected? These are newer and interesting questions as well. ISPs are obviously not responsible when a user is getting infected, however... When that machine in question starts sending out quite a lot of traffic (zombie), does the ISP need to take action?

In my opinion, if there's indeed an unusual load of traffic coming from a machine (sending out mass emails, trying to DDoS a box, ...) the ISP should indeed warn the user.

Some ISPs already do this, for example:
CenturyLink, KPN, Time Warner, Xs4All, Ziggo, ...

Getting back to my original point. Whenever there's a big "outbreak" of malware or there's a so called "APT" (Advanced Persistent Threat) found, people from several branches of the industry are very fast to point fingers or play the blame game (hence the title of this post). Examples:

  • You have no proper security implementations!
  • Your $securitysolution sucks! (use ours!)
  • You(r employees) are easily fooled!
  • You use Windows!
  • ...

It so appears that every single person is forgetting the simple fact that malware writers are actually the cause of one's computer issues. Not antivirus. Not Microsoft. Not the user. Not the ISP.
You can basically view these as buffers. Buffers against the malware. Buffers against the bad guys. Yes, you reading this now, you're actually a buffer as well! Do you have any idea on how often companies are suffering from attacks? How many attacks are actually prevented by $securitysolution, sysadmins and even users?

So, let's state it clear for once and for all. There's only one entity to blame:
the malware writer / botnet operator / put-other-synonym-for-bad-guy-here

Why am I using the word "entity" you may wonder? Well... You must know that malware writer and botnet operator aren't actually synonyms (as opposed to suggested above). The malware writer isn't necessary a botnet operator or the other way around. One thing's for sure though: they both take the blame here.

The malware writer for creating and distributing the malware in the first place.
The botnet operator or herder for consequently infecting users.

Here's a simple flowchart I made about how the current "blame" situation is:
(the direction of the arrow indicates who is blaming who)

Note: may differ from current view

An ideal flowchart would be:

An ideal world?

I propose a new model. One where nobody gets the blame, except for the malware writer malicious entity.

A model where nobody points the finger to the user, which seems to happen in quite a lot of the cases. 

Indeed, a joint effort is necessary in this particular subject. It requires effort from all the involved parties. 

We'll start with each and go build our foundation, our basis:

The user:

  • Should know his or her responsibility and consequences when browsing the web
  • Should install an antivirus & firewall (free or not is irrelevant, as long as both elements are present)
  • Should know there's no 100% protection. There's a maximum of 99(,9?)% protection at least.
  • ... That's basically it.

The antivirus vendor:

  • Should acknowledge the user.
  • Should know the user's needs and shortcomings
  • Should know there's no 100% protection. There's a maximum of 99(,9?)% protection at least.
  • ... That's basically it.

The security company:

  • Should acknowledge both the user and the antivirus vendor
  • Should keep giving feedback for both instances
  • Should acknowledge the cat and mouse game between "viruses" and "antiviruses"
  • ... That's basically it.


  • See The antivirus vendor and The security company

The 3rd party app:

  • Should acknowledge the user
  • Should know the user's needs and shortcomings and therefore:
  • Simplify the processes while increasing the security (not easy, I know)

That's basically it. If by now you're still thinking things like "users are gullible", "X antivirus is really bad", "Y security company is really lacking", "Windows is filled with vulnerabilities", "Java, Adobe, etc. are so easily exploited", .... Then you missed the point of this post. Start again from the top.

The foundations suggested above are what they are, foundations, and is how I see it. Your foundations may differ depending on the situation you're in, but in the end we're all in the same situation:

"fighting the malicious entity".

That is why there's a need for cooperation, coordination. There are countless possibilities, but to give a few examples for a kick start (for once let's get a step ahead of the bad guys):

The 3rd party app:

Not too many options here, besides:
  • listening to feedback from security companies and researchers and
  • prioritize security and provide sufficient information about security patches.

  • Continue the cooperation that currently exists between security companies and others
  • Share your research, especially new malware trends. Everyone benefits!

The security company:
  • Continue the cooperation that may currently exist between you and other companies
  • Found anything interesting? Don't hesitate to share. 

Note: I realize there are sometimes reasons specific findings or research may not or cannot be shared. Obviously these specific situations should not be shared then. If you're in this industry, I'm sure you'll know why. An alternative some companies are applying is simply not naming who or what has been affected, but still outlining the incident, solution approach and solution on itself.

The antivirus vendor:
  • Consolidate your resources. There are countless researchers out there who are simply eager to share their findings, suggestions, research or simple MD5 hashes with you
  • Share your own findings as well when there's an "APT". Do not simply use it for the next big marketing move
  • Share, where appropriate, MD5 hashes so the community can benefit.

The ISP:
  • Warn your customers when you see an unusual and/or malicious high traffic load from end-users

The webhost or hosting provider:
  • Provide clear, useful and enough information on how to send an abuse report

Note: I realize there are more than enough (malicious) webhosts out there which do not list an abuse@ address, provide a fake one or do simply not reply. If you are a webhost, start implementing proper security checks so there's no malware being hosted on one of the websites you provide. Provide an email address or online form where security companies and/or researchers and users can send their abuse reports.

Last, but not least:

  • Don't panic. Panic is a bad counselor. Stay focused and note down what happened or at least what you noticed or think what happened. What did you do right before the culprit happened?
    Did it turn out your version of Office or Windows is illegal?
    Did you click on a link? Did you pick up a call from "Microsoft Support" but ended up in paying countless dollars/euros/pounds/etc. for a problem that didn't even exist in the first place? 
  • Have you been infected with malware (in particular banking malware or ransomware)? 
  • Were you the victim of CC theft, identity theft or any other form of online fraud or theft? 

Report it to the correct instances. Sadly, I found very little useful websites in regards to those situations. Prevention tips are scattered everywhere, but what to do afterwards, when you sit there and think about what has happened, well, that information is very scarce. What I did find is listed here:

Is this of no useful information to you? Exactly. More resources should be available for this.
"What now?":

  • Contact your local police office and file a "cybercrime" complaint: you're a victim!
  • Consult the website of your local CERT - Computer Emergency Response Team - Often they have additional information or may even have a hotline or contact form to report your incident.
  • ...


In this post I have addressed the current situation in regards of a malware infection and its results. Who is to blame? The answer is simple: the malicious entity. This may sound mysterious but as indicated above, I mean the malware writer and/or botnet operator. You can also call it the "cybercrook" or "cybercriminal" or whatever term best suits your needs.

I have proposed a new scheme, a new situation, a new model where we can all benefit from. Insights have been given and hopefully something can come out of it. As a matter of fact, it all boils down to these 3 points:

  • You are not to blame, only the malicious entity is to blame;
  • Look at yourself before pointing the finger to others who have in fact provided you all these years with resources!
  • Work together. Cooperate. Coordinate. Consolidate. You may call it "the 3 C's".
    Be victorious in your efforts to stop "cybercrime" once and for all!

Originally I had named this blogpost "Responsibility with malware infections", but as the post (yes, you may call it a rant if you like) continued to grow, I realised the current title fits the subject in a more appropriate and understandable way. Though you should still take your responsibilities when this kind of incident happens.

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Suggestions? I'm all open for it. Give me a shout-out on Twitter or simply post a comment below. I'll try to answer as soon as possible.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

PayPal spam leads to malware cocktail

Interesting spammail in one of the traps today, something wrong with your variables, malware authors? :-)

Subject: With your balance was filmed - 300 $ -Resolution of case #PP-025-851-848-207

Content of email:

Transaction: {figure } {SYMBOL }

With your balance was filmed : - 500 $

                                                           -20 $

                                                           -49 $

Balance is:                                      625 $

For more information, please see page View all history


Please do not reply to this email. This mailbox is not monitored and you will not receive a response. For assistance, log in to your PayPal account and click the Help link in the upper right corner of any page PayPal.

Copyright © 1999-2013 PayPal. All rights reserved.


Source IP: - IPvoid Result
Botnet: Cutwail spambot

Malicious URL (active):

WhoIs information:
Domain Name .....................
Sponsoring Registrar ............ HICHINA ZHICHENG TECHNOLOGY LTD.
Name Server ..................... &&
Registrant ID ................... hc590857663-cn
Registrant Name ................. vinson luk
Registrant Organization ......... shenzhenshi caifufengyun keji youxian gongsi
Registrant Address .............. Rm.3-33C Dijingfeng Maoyecheng Dafen Buji, Longgang District
Registrant City ................. shenzhen
Registrant Province/State ....... guangdong
Registrant Postal Code .......... 518000
Registrant Country Code ......... CN
Registrant Phone Number ......... +86.075533572855 
Registrant Fax .................. +86.075584153080 
Registrant Email ................

More malware is hosted on as well, including a ZIPfile which is currently empty. (Error from the malware authors? Uploaded too soon, dropper just not included yet?)

Related websites:

Hosted on: - IPvoid Result 

Interesting login page

Other screenshots:

The link from the spammail loads malicious JAR file:
MD5: 6b872d170e878ab3749d717cbba5d0e3
VirusTotal Result
Exploit-Analysis Result

Exploit-Analysis is a new service and looks very promising, besides doing the basic stuff (meta-data dump, strings, tcpdump, ...) you can also view the entropy of the malware, as well as choosing browsertype and Java/Flash/Adobe version. In particular for JAR files, it can also display the classes included and thus can be used to analyze a malicious Jar file online (you can do this offline with JD-GUI for example).

From their website:
Sandy developed under Indian Honeynet and is capable of doing both static and dynamic analysis of Malicious Office, Jar,HTML files at the moment.

Continuing with our findings, the following files were downloaded & dropped to the system:
about.exe    098e44145840862b9488be395c860110   
index.html   325a20d15d66e5a78878da2ff579a715   
readme.exe  523a813fa43744673bdb537d778d0e3f   
w8BDM.exe   5c840a17dcee119cf40a3636971de65c   
able_disturb_planning.jar   6b872d170e878ab3749d717cbba5d0e3   
tixy.exe      82f1d0ed26012f0883cb6017aa8fb671   
able_disturb_planning.php  be3db7ef10eca3a21878cbad80eb5f2d   
pythias.js   d60b2df2b5c6c1ef083766cba29b60d2   
JpVsf.exe   f804ad6fe5b2a0ae3078703fdc112e29   

Besides the usual infostealers (Zbot, Fareit, etc.), Medfos is saying "hello" as well:
Win32/Medfos is a family of trojans that install malicious extensions for Internet browsers and redirect search engine results. It also allows for click-fraud, generating profit for a website through unethical means.


  • Don't click on links from unknown senders.
  • Don't open any attachment(s) of unknown senders. 
  • In fact, don't even open mail from unknown senders.
  • Don't be fooled by mail spoofing, you can view the real source by right-clicking your mail and choosing "View Source". (This depends on your mailclient though.)
  • Install an antivirus and antimalware product and keep it up-to-date & running.
  • When in doubt, visit the website of §vendor or §product or §service directly.
  • Block the IPs mentioned above in your firewall or hostfile or §solution.
  • I almost forgot: uninstall Java.